Film industry tackles Coronavirus

COVID-19 delays movie releases, impacts festivals

From The Orlando Weekly, March 13, 2020 (Updated March 16)

From 12 Monkeys to Contagion to zombie flicks, the movie industry loves viral-outbreak films. Now it’s starring in a real-life one.

Though the coronavirus, or COVID-19, is exponentially less serious than the health crises depicted in Hollywood disaster films, the industry is facing an economic calamity due to the prohibition of large public gatherings, postponement of movie releases, and cancellation or postponement of festivals, including the Sarasota Film Festival, which was scheduled for March 27 – April 5 but is now indefinitely delayed. But as of Monday, Orlando cinemas remain open, and the city’s biggest movie event – the Florida Film Festival – is still scheduled for April 17-26.

“We plan to move forward with the festival and will issue an updated statement should anything change,” says Janie Pope, director of development and public relations for Maitland’s Enzian Theater, which runs the Florida Film Festival.

In an e-mail to patrons, the theater expounded on that statement: “We at Enzian Theater are looking forward to a successful Florida Film Festival 2020, as well as our upcoming special events and regular programming. … Enzian’s priority is the health and safety of our patrons and employees. In addition to our standard procedures, staff has implemented additional precautionary measures … to ensure our guests may continue to enjoy the Enzian experience.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and follow the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as local and state public-health authorities. During the Florida Film Festival, many of our volunteer teams will be assisting us in maintaining a safe environment for all. We have and will continue to train staff on proper sanitary practices and encourage those who feel ill to stay home.”

If the Florida Film Festival is held as scheduled, it could still be affected, as the cancellation of the South by Southwest Film Festival and the postponements of the Tribeca and Sarasota festivals could impact programming. For instance, in a positive development, movies scheduled to debut at those other festivals could now be premiering at the FFF. Conversely, filmmakers could decide to either not attend the festival or pull their films in the hopes of premiering at a larger festival in the fall.

“As of [March 14], all filmmakers are still participating in this year’s FFF,” says Matthew Curtis, programming director, who nevertheless admits the event is in jeopardy. And that was before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that public events for the next two months be limited to 50 people. If government were to adopt that recommendation, the FFF and all similar events would likely cancel or postpone.

Though the Enzian’s regular schedule has not yet been affected, its Popcorn Flicks in the Park, slated for March 12, was canceled by the City of Winter Park. And the theater is temporarily removing some tables and chairs.

“We are currently rearranging the theater in order to allow for social distancing: six feet between tables,” says Valerie Cisneros, marketing manager. “This will reduce our capacity slightly, … but we will remain open as of [March 16].”

Movie theaters nationwide aren’t immune to the virus either. Though most major chains remain open as of March 16 (except in certain locations, such as New York City and Los Angeles), many are cutting back capacity to accommodate social distancing. That includes two of the biggest in Central Florida: Regal Cinemas and AMC. Specifically, Regal Winter Park Village, Regal Waterford Lakes and AMC Altamonte Mall confirm they are limiting attendance to 50 percent, while the latter is temporarily cutting employee hours and implementing stringent cleaning procedures. (AMC Altamonte Mall admits they were already less than half full before the policy change.)

American cinemas seem to be taking a cue from France, which limited attendance to 100 people in each auditorium before eventually announcing theaters would close. But even if Regal Winter Park Village remains open, its new policy of running at half capacity could doom the Florida Film Festival, which uses the theater. However, in some hopeful news, the Cannes Film Festival, scheduled for May, announced on March 14 that it would wait until mid-April to decide to cancel or postpone.

If cinemas nationwide decide to temporarily close – a move The Wall Street Journal reports might be inevitable – that might be due partially to lack of content, as the openings of films such as Mulan, Fast & Furious 9, A Quiet Place Part II and No Time to Die have been postponed, leaving the industry with no major releases for the rest of March. Netflix’s decision to halt production for the next two weeks, which The New York Times first reported on March 13, could also produce a ripple effect. And the Florida Office of Film & Entertainment announced on Twitter on March 16, “In light of the declaration of emergency in the City of Miami, we will not be granting film permits until further notice. Permits that have been approved are hereby revoked.”

One thing is certain: This story’s ending remains to be written.

© 2020 Orlando Weekly / MeierMovies, LLC

Image courtesy iStockPhoto (#173573801, by KLH49)